Torres to Serón - Bathrooms in the reception area, oddly fancy, no signs as to which are men's or women's - that was a theme in the park...Like they said at Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales - Keep eating. Keep moving. From the dropoff point at Hotel Las Torres, us trekkers received steady rain, pressed between the drops and mud, a full pack, fresh with dry gear and food for approximately a week's journey. A few birds scampered about, and the peace of the journey was established under dreary afternoon skies. There was a group of women affirming their fortitude to complete the O circuit and we shared a few steps before I stopped to assess my durability in wet conditions. They were faster than me. I was weighed down and had to rearrange the pack, a ritual I would repeat for the next few days. The trail was one of the flattest from Torres to Serón (approximate location), but the soggiest and loneliest. Several people crossed a shallow series of streams meant for horse crossing. I put sandles on and was one of the first to cross., but these weren't worn again and became wet weight on my back. Trudging past docile horses I arrived in camp, a crowded shelter with wet clothes hanging out about excited backpackers - they all attempted to dry as I checked in to camp the night. I had bought dinner and breakfast, which also afforded me some heat before I went to my tent, no sleeping bag - some blanket, a liner, and an emergency mylar blanket. A pro tip is to make sure this blanket is surrounding you as much as possible, else the wet ground will continue to reduce the effectiveness of the emergency blanket.
Inside the warmth of an 8 x 4 kitchen I warmed up and became glued to my chair, content at consuming everything put on the table. Food is pricy in the park and I needed the energy, well salted bread and butter, soup, salmon, potatoes and peppers - I had no idea how they lugged it all into the park, on horse. "Pollo", the camp chef for "Vertice Patagonia" the company running the park campsites on the backside of the circuit said the only vehicle allowed in to that side was the gas delivery man. No matter, I was fed, and I went back to my tent to assess my accomodations. and wondered if my knee would hold up through the next days hikes. It rained and rained and night fell, bringing some trepidation and discomfort, processing the potential that I could be walking days in the rain, soaked through. When would I meet the limits of my mind and body? Was I already there?
I awoke to the rain hitting the tent. I heard it through my ear plugs I wanted to drown it out with. The tent is a drum that intesifies the beat and volume of rain. My body was cold after night fell and threw me into a full panic. I felt I had to go back in the morning. down to the Hotel Las Torres to gather myself and plan to meet my friend via different route. (I told him I would find him at Refugio Grey on the 21st.) If it was raining at this elevation it surely meant there was snow on the Garner Pass and it would be closed, I said to myself. Out came my mylar blanket, my last defense. I felt the warmth reflected back onto my chest as I pulled it over me and I was soon asleep, but I awoke to doubt in the morning as the rain hadn't ceased.
Back in the warm kitchen I dried my rain fly, seeing as I wanted to put my air mattress in there, keeping my bedding dry would be essential to my comfort and even survival. I stumbled into the kitchen and felt I was a ball of fear, asking Pollo if the Pass would be happen. He allayed that fear, I ate quickly, packed up my things, and was on my way. The wet hiking boots soon became warm, and my feet, boots and mud underneath were all the same. I was moving and I felt I could complete the circuit for the first time since early the first day.
Two figures stopped and started not too far in front of me in some bright colored jackets. I eagerly introduced myself, fearing a lonely hypothermic death on the trail. My new friends Marc and Kenny kept me moving, and my spirits up, that second day. We were making our way on the trail, which goes one way to Camp/Refugio Dickson, stopping first at the ranger station at Coirón. They set a brisk pace with their compact packs, me with mine barely able to keep up. Day 2 brought us around and over the north side of the hills that overlooked the Lago Paine and Río Paine. The sun broke through and we found peace. The cameras came out to photograph the scenery. Kenny sold me a memory card for my GoPro. The rangers who checked our camp reservations looked on studying the transaction, unamused, perhaps despising the park's welcome to everyone and their belongings, at the peril of losing focus on the natural surroundings. The rangers exchanged a few words with us. They are all young, proud, exemplary Chileans that exercise pride and confidence. They are strong and can run the trails, probably traversing twice the distances a tourist with a pack can. Through some tall grasses, Marc and Kenny rushed on toward Dickson, and I passed them and them me at various intervals. I saw Dickson from a loop, and they were probably already setting up camp. I was going on to Los Perros. After Dickson I walked through a valley south along Río del los Perros. After a 4/5 hour journey I had the same amount of time to get to the Los Perros camp. Now I was on the trail having it all to myself, the sound of the rushing river, checking constantly the boot prints giving me peace of mind I was on the right trail, thick forest, mud. occasionally popping out to miradores, nestled in the mountains. I had enough light to enjoy the sights, and I drew deep breaths at the splendor of snow capped giants around me with me pack, water, snacks. The comfort of knowing I was among great natural forces. It started raining again as I scrambled over rocks toward Los Perros, the last 2km seeming to take longer than an hour, I was huffing and puffing, my discomfort growing at each step on the rocks, an introduction of what was to come on Day 3. I could barely fill out the sign in sheet at the ranger station, or set up my tent. My exhaustion was present, but I felt I was going to make it to Refugio Grey the next day.
3:30am - The ranger said the absolute last time to depart for the pass was 8am. They would ensure all who left make it safely. So early, I was ready to move, start cooking corn soup, granola, the biggest day called for the most energy. Mice had eaten through my snack pocket in my backpack, which was not safe even under a rain fly of course, safe from rain, not from critters. Three hours up and up to the rocks then climbing more toward the Pass, the Garner Pass. I hardly looked back, I wanted to fly up to the top, my legs were strong, hands were cold. The gusts became stronger, and as I got closer, I started breathing, the expanses, the views got wider. There were snowflakes coming from a different direction then wind gusts from Glacier Grey. I was between a valley of rocks, a forest, a glacial ice field (Glacier Grey) on the opposite side, I saw nearly all levels of the cake from atop that pass and my two legs had walked it. Then what followed was a six hour descent through mud steps, so many steps and then back up to a ranger station. I applied tiger balm to my knee. It was red, inflamed, still is today from that hike. It wasn't nearly over after the climb. I had bridges, two spills, forded a river, scrambled up a sandy cliff, nearly got blown off the cliff rounding the west side against the glacier. The hardest part of the circuit was the last part of the hike after making it up the pass. At the end, I found George, spotless, his new gear hadn't felt dust before, and his glasses reflected rays from all sides. I was in tatters and seeing him was the ultimate comic relief. Later, i took two Advil (too many), nearly fainted in my soup, and moved my bum left leg/knee around using my arms. I was safe at Refugio Grey but in pain.